Failure to secure vaccines reflects poorly on Nepal’s diplomacy

As many as 1.4 million people older than 65 are waiting to receive the second dose of vaccines

Ashim Neupane

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: The government and political leaders in Nepal have time and again promised import of Covid-19 vaccines, but the acquisition of shots has been a far cry as the country struggles to come out of the deadly second wave of the pandemic.

Import of vaccines has been prioritized by the Health Ministry and the Foreign Ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office and Office of the President, but their efforts have yet to yield productive results.

It is worth noting that political leaders have already received vaccines. Reports suggest that they have also secured vaccines for their relatives using power. Some business persons and other powerful people have also received jabs allegedly abusing political clout.

False promises

While inaugurating the Covid-19 vaccination drive in January, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli claimed the government was working to vaccinate every Nepali within three months. 

A few days later, PM Oli changed his statement, announcing that “frontliners will get Covid-19 jab within three months, and the general public will be administered the vaccine by the end of 2021”.

Foreign ministers also wrote to several countries including India asking for Covid-19 vaccines. However, as things stand, the PM’s claims have so far had little merit.

Questions over credibility

President Bidya Devi Bhandari also wrote formal letters to the head of the state of vaccine-producing countries. The Foreign Ministry has also made formal requests to India and other countries, but there has been no positive response yet. 

The harsh reality is that Nepal could not even secure import of one million shots of vaccine from Serum Institute of India though the government had already signed a deal with the company.

The situation has raised questions over credibility of the government. It has also raised questions whether our diplomatic agencies are capable enough to lobby for critical humanitarian support at the time of globe-encompassing scourge, said Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.

People keep on waiting

So far Nepal has received over four million vaccines from India, China and through the COVAX facility. But at least 1.4 million elderly people who had received the first dose of vaccine are waiting for the second jab.

The harsh reality is that Nepal could not even secure import of one million shots of vaccine from Serum Institute of India though the government had already signed a deal with the company.

The government had planned to administer them with the vaccines to be received from India. Despite requests from the government to India, the Southern neighbor has refused to send vaccines to Nepal as India is grappling with its own second wave.

The Serum Institute of India has decided to send the remaining million doses of vaccines by 2021, according to Dr Tara Pokharel, director at the Family Welfare Division of the Health Ministry.

The World Health Organization suggests that those who have received the first shot of Covishield vaccine should get the second shot within 12-16 weeks. 

“It is already late to vaccinate elderly people who received the first dose,” said Dr Pokharel. “The government has asked several countries to provide vaccines at the earliest.”

By the numbers

Nepal has so far received a million vaccines from the government of India as donation. Likewise, the government of China donated 1.8 million doses of vaccines to Nepal. Nepal has only been to purchase a million doses of vaccines from India. Though the government has paid for a million doses of vaccines, the government of India is yet to provide those jabs to Nepal.

Likewise, Nepal also got almost 350,000 vaccines through the COVAX facility. Apart from these, the government has failed to procure vaccines for people.

“It is likely that Nepal will be battered from another wave if vaccines do not arrive early,” said Dr Marasini.

“Import of vaccines should be a singular priority of the government. But the government is busy making false commitments and political stunts.”

Though the government, while inaugurating the vaccination campaign, had claimed that Nepal is the second country in South Asia to vaccinate its people against Covid-19, the fact is that the country was only able to vaccinate people with jabs received as donations.

“Although Nepal is surrounded by two vaccine-producing giants, it has failed in diplomacy,” said Marasini.